Russia in the Round

Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round (5th –13th May), has programming that must put it into the running for the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society’s Concerts Series and Festivals award.

There is so much going on over the festival’s nine-day duration taking in 33 events, a blow-by-blow account of what here would be tedious, if not of a perfunctory nature here and especially when a visit to will reveal all.

However, by way of indicating what you will find there, a few choice examples and musings cannot be resisted.

Innovation and imagination, which sum up much of the festival, are there from the outset with the creation of ten new artworks in response to the music Mussorgsky came up with for his ten Pictures at an Exhibition.

The new ‘pictures’ will be exhibited in the Winter Garden throughout the festival where Tim Horton plays Mussorgsky’s work (3pm, 6th May). If you want to hear him perform it sat down there is a repeat performance in the Crucible Studio (5.45pm, 10th May).

The under-appreciated Glazunov has three works in the opening concert (7.15pm, 5th May) sharing them with Tchaikovsky’s Op 50 piano trio. The day after, pianists Peter Hill and Ben Frith re-unite (4pm, 6th May), but not for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring if you are licking your lips at the prospect.

The composer is on their menu, though, with Petrushka, plus excerpts from two Tchaikovsky ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (arr Rachmaninov) and Swan Lake (arr Debussy). Stravinsky’s Rite is performed when Tim Horton teams up with Viv McLean (4.30pm, 13th May).

Actors Sara Kestelman and Simon Russell Beale, take to the stage when the Studio becomes a Moscow concert hall (7.15pm, 6th May) during Stalin’s ‘Great Terror’ and music by Gliére, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Tsintsadze, Myaskovsky and Weinberg – the eminently worthy latter three being highly prolific – is heard.

BBC Radio 3 has been stimulated into action by the festival content and will be recording four concerts over the second half of the festival, the pick of which features Martinů’s engaging Fantasia for theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano (7.15pm, 11th May).

Should you not know, the strange instrument was one of the first electronic music devices, invented by a Russian physicist of the same name in 1920, and some 20-odd years later Martinů really made it sing!

Programmed with it are Prokofiev’s widely contrasted Op 39 quintet derived from a ballet that never was, Shostakovich’s powerfully emotional Eighth String Quartet and Eisler’s jolly Septet No 1, subtitled Variations on American Children’s Songs.

Much acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne puts an appearance in – two, actually! – though primarily (7.15pm, 8th May) for a recital based on one Rachmaninov gave at the Sheffield Festival in 1936 when he played his two Études-Tableaux sets, Op 33 and Op 39, along with works by Brahms and Schubert.

Osborne plays the Études – albeit, a selection from Op 39! plus, respectively, Three Intermezzi Op 117 and Moment Musical No 2 by Brahms and Schubert.

Ensemble 360’s double bass player Laurène Durantel also calls on her talents as a pianist and vocalist (3.30pm, 7th May) to furnish a live soundtrack to the pioneering silent (1929) Russian documentary film Man with a Movie Camera in the Students’ Union Auditorium (Sheffield University).

Staying in the realms of creativity, Sheffield’s composer collective Platform 4, Jenny Jackson, Tom James, Chris Noble and Tom Owen, have each been commissioned to write a new work inspired by a Russian repertoire piece and will be performed alongside it at four concerts.

Among other opus numbers heard at concerts in the festival are Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op 94, Britten’s Cello Suite No 3 and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op 57 at one of them – Steven Osborne’s second appearance (7.15pm, 9th May)!

Glinka gets three looks in: Viola Sonata (in a bassoon transcription); Grand Sextet, rubbing shoulders with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence; and Trio Pathétique, with some Sofia Gubaidulina on the same programme: Quasi Hoquetus.

Other standout works include Taneyev: String Trio Op 31; Cui: Cinque petits duos Op 56 (flute/ violin); Rimsky-Korsakov: piano/ wind quintet; Nikolai Kapustin: Flute Sonata Op 125; Shostakovich: the valedictory Viola Sonata Op 147; Balakirev: Octet Op 3.

And how about a pairing of Poème for oboe and piano by Marina Dranishnikova and Viola Sonata No 1 by Nikolai Roslavets with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2 a luring siren as an opportunity for adventurous discovery (12.45pm, 11th May)?

Unless noted, all the concerts mentioned take place in the Crucible Studio and are given by members of Ensemble 360 with the odd guest here and there.


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